Adam and Kellie Walton are excited about the early results of introducing Focus Genetics’ bloodlines into their flock.
They have gradually transformed their operation at Wurrook South, at Rokewood, from running a traditional fine-wool Merino self-replacing flock, to focusing on prime lamb production.
Initially, they expanded into a bit of cropping on the 2300-hectare property and then started putting Border Leicesters over some of the Merinos, and then increased the number of first-cross ewes.
In the past few years, they have transitioned from using Merino ewes as the basis of the flock, to using a self-replacing stabilised maternal composite ewe, known as Highlanders, developed and marketed by Focus Genetics.
The 6500 ewes are lambing down now, and Mr Walton said it was the first time lambs were being born out of Highlander-cross ewes by Highlander rams, which they purchase from Murnong Farming at Inverleigh.
They are hoping to expand the number of ewes with a higher Highlander percentage in the flock, but Mr Walton conceded it would take some years.
“In the past two years of results, I’d say the Highlanders are 10 per cent smaller than the Border Leicester-Merinos and about 15 per cent more fertile,” Mr Walton said.
“Hopefully, by using them we can produce and sell more lambs per hectare.”
Currently, about 2000 of the ewes are pure-bred Merino ewes joined to a Highlander ram; and about 1000 of them are the Highlander first-cross, joined back to a Highlander ram.
They have put rams of Focus Genetics’ terminal composite breed, FocusPrime, over their other ewes, including the Border Leicester-Merinos.
Mr Walton said Highlanders had brought hybrid vigour to the operation, seen in their early growth and doing-ability.
The Highlander was developed 20 years ago to achieve a uniform, moderate mature size ewe, with selection on lambing ease, lamb survival, milking and mothering ability to deliver more kilograms of lamb weaned per hectare.
“We are striving for an animal that finishes at a lighter weight, say 40 to 45 kilograms (live weight),” Mr Walton said.
As they change the breeding of the flock, they have sold lambs at the local store sales, but ultimately Mr Walton said they would like to finish the lambs and sell them by Christmas or early January. But he said whether they sold them in the yards or over the hooks would be determined on prices offered.
The team at Wurrook South has also been gradually reducing the percentage of the farm devoted to cropping and increasing the amount of pastures, which are predominantly of a phalaris, sub-clover base. They also have about 15 per cent of the farm sown to Lucerne, which they use strategically to boost the nutrient intake of certain classes of sheep.
The ewes started lambing on August 1 and will continue for five to six weeks. The rams were put out at a ratio of 1:70 (plus one for each mob) for younger ewes and 1:100 in the mature ewes.
Mr Walton said they’d joined ewe lambs for the first time this year. About 70 per cent of the 1500 ewe lambs scanned in lamb (SIL) and achieved a 127 per cent lambs scanned compared to ewe lambs joined.
After scanning, the ewes are divided into smaller mobs of those carrying a single or multiple lambs. Those carrying twins are put in mobs of 150-200 are put on better pastures, while the singles run in larger mobs and of less quality feed.
Bayden Mellington, who works with Mr Walton on the farm, had taken charge of preparing and joining the ewe lambs. Mr Walton said they aimed to get the ewe lambs all over 40kg before joining with most 43kg-plus.
They join all the ewes at this time of year so their energy requirements are met by the pastures’ spring flush. They have used containment areas in summer time, and Mr Walton said they were doing a lot of re-fencing including subdividing paddocks.
About 950ha of Wurrook South in under crops including canola, wheat, barley and faba beans. In the past couple of years, Mr Walton said it had been more profitable to sell wheat and buy in feed barley. They budget on having to supplement feed in autumn, and have used containment areas, particularly in the summer.
Mr Mellington is also helping to understand how electronic identification tags in their sheep could be used most effectively on their farm.
All the sheep are shorn in June, and Mr Walton expects the flock to stabilise at around 22-24 micron fibre diameter.